Home » Mind, Neuroscience, News » Another myth shattered: Smart people are MORE vulnerable to thinking errors, not less

Another myth shattered: Smart people are MORE vulnerable to thinking errors, not less

In “Why Smart People Are Stupid” (New Yorker, June 12, 2012), Jonah Lehrer recounts,

A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology led by Richard West at James Madison University and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto suggests that, in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors. Although we assume that intelligence is a buffer against bias—that’s why those with higher S.A.T. scores think they are less prone to these universal thinking mistakes—it can actually be a subtle curse. …

What explains this result? One provocative hypothesis is that the bias blind spot arises because of a mismatch between how we evaluate others and how we evaluate ourselves. When considering the irrational choices of a stranger, for instance, we are forced to rely on behavioral information; we see their biases from the outside, which allows us to glimpse their systematic thinking errors. However, when assessing our own bad choices, we tend to engage in elaborate introspection. We scrutinize our motivations and search for relevant reasons; we lament our mistakes to therapists and ruminate on the beliefs that led us astray.

Maybe. Another possibility is that in a culture that highly values abstract intelligence, people with high IQs may be less cautious about the possibility that they are making mistakes. They stray outside their areas of expertise and – as the saying goes – know just enough to get it all wrong.

People less gifted with high intelligence tend to just avoid areas they don’t understand, so there are mistakes they just won’t make.

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3 Responses to Another myth shattered: Smart people are MORE vulnerable to thinking errors, not less

  1. “They stray outside their areas of expertise and – as the saying goes – know just enough to get it all wrong.”

    That’s certainly part of it. But, in my experience, it’s simply that the gifted are so terribly accustomed to being correct where the less gifted are not that they get a habitual notion that they’re right because they think so. And being that they are more gifted it tends to be easier for them to ‘win’ an argument without any regard at all to the issues at hand. Unsurprisingly, the most intransigent folks you can find infest Mensa.

  2. I believe that, because the deepest truths are literally mysterious, opaque, even, often actual paradoxes even in physics, in such areas, we believe what our heart tells us to believe, what we wish to believe (voluntarism); in respect of Christians, whether formal or unknowingly inspired with Charity by the Holy Spirit, the sovereign virtue, the active ingredient, underpinning all the other virtues.

    Our faith, however, instructs us as to what we should set our hearts on, and if we are true, then such instruction will indeed resonate with our heart. As St Augustine said, “O God, you made us for yourself, and our hearts will find no rest until they rest in thee.”

    Were it not so, the Bible, all of Christianity would make very little sense. We would have to wonder why Jesus was so critical of the religious establishment of his day. They knew the scriptures and were punctilious in their observance of the Law, at least its letter, where ‘mint and cumin’ were concerned, anyway; less so, the weightier matters, such as justice, etc.

    Imagine a heaven accessible solely, even primarily, as a function of worldly intelligence, indeed a hierarchy of academic brilliance. Would you want to meet Dr Mengele there?

    Of course, in the present age, when a high level of worldly intelligence (together with ambition) is accorded almost the status of the supreme virtue by our society, such a notion as fundamental mysteries being opaque to the Brightest and Best is anathema.

    This is not to say that the wordly intelligence is, somehow, of negative value, intrinsically disreputable and shameful. No. Rather, it is to be enlightened by the person’s basing his world-view and reasoning on Christian principles, and above all, in the service of the more innately spiritual, less worldy-wise (as in the angelic less carnal sense, also characteristic of women, whether for better or worse).

    A radical misunderstanding of this led to a curious situation in the most prestigious, Roman Catholic contemplative order of monks, the Carthusians – the contemplative orders themselves enjoying an egregious cachet.

    If one ponders the story of Martha and Mary in the light of the teachings of scripture concerning the generally greater wisdom of the poor, who, as Pope St Leo the Great remarked, are more ‘naturally’ inclined to poverty of spirit, it is apparent that Mary, the contemplative, who ‘chose the better part’, represents the manual worker, rather than the more cerebral worker.

    While Martha, who was, rather paradoxically, busying herself with preparing the meal etc (fretting about many things), represents the person of an academic, more analytical, worldly kind of intelligence – the movers and shakers, prudent, industrious, paragons of middle England, one might say.

    A surveyor who had work on a sports complex in a Middle Eastern country, on the other hand, once told me that they found that, if they wanted to speed up the construction work, it was pointless paying the workmen overtime, as they simply used the extra money to take time off to enjoy more leisure-time; the Anawin, Jesus addressed in his Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount.

    I believe things have changed, but the Carthusians in the sixties seemed very elite, with a preponderance of monks from a professional background and even the odd aristocrat. They, however were served by ‘brothers’, from a lowlier walk of life. Mary was serving Martha, so Martha could dedicate herself more devotedly to contemplation.

    So, the ‘bottom line’ is that reason is duplicitous, nightmarishly so, if one’s premise is false, and a high worldly intelligence is anything but a guarantee of a superior instinct for the deepest truths upon which our reasoning must depend. Reviewing a book by the economist Hayek, Keynes trenchantly, not to say, ‘hilariously’, observed,

    “The book, as it stands, seems to me to be one of the most frightful muddles I have ever read, with scarcely a sound proposition in it beginning with page 45 [Hayek provided historical background up to page 45; after that came his theoretical model], and yet it remains a book of some interest, which is likely to leave its mark on the mind of the reader. It is an extraordinary example of how, starting with a mistake, a remorseless logician can end up in bedlam.” (from Wiki)

    (And who could fail to LOL at his remark, “I work for a Government I despise for ends I think criminal.”

  3. 3

    I don’t agree their are smarter or more intelligent people.
    The bible says there are the divisions in human intelligence called Wisdom, understanding, Knowledge.

    People with heaps of knowledge may be below average in understanding or wise
    ‘smarter” people simply are marginally more in one of these groups or a combination of them.

    Smarter people probably are people who combine knowledge and understanding especially when young.
    They don’t actually have better abilities to figure things out or avoid illogical conclusions.

    In fact I find the upper middle class sharp folks the most reluctent to question authority they trust because it comes from the same place they do.
    They don’t question well degree -ed people as they don;’t think they should be questioned.
    While middle class and lower class have no such vested bias.
    the lower class in fact has failing ideas in respecting authority.

    “Scientists say so” WORKS and dominates well educated people and settles things.
    origin issues bump into this.
    They are less able to naturally question things.
    Everyone however can be persuaded.

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